By The Humane Society of the United States
What Size Dog Should You Get? As you may know, dogs range in size from several pounds to almost two hundred, and from between seven or eight inches in height to well over three feet. For comparison purposes, we classify them as very small or toy (under 10 pounds), small (11-25 pounds), medium (26-50 pounds), large (51-100 pounds), and extra-large or giant (over 100 pounds). If your plan is to bring your dog to the office every day, a good choice might be a toy dog. If you're a hiking enthusiast who's looking for a trail buddy, you'll probably want a larger, sturdier type. For most people, a small or medium-size dog is most practical. Such a dog is neither fragile nor too powerful to handle, is big enough to play and romp with, and is small enough to transport easily. All other things being equal, a medium-size dog with a "regular" shape is less likely than extreme types to have structural defects.
What Age? As already noted, puppies under six months are labor- and time-intensive. Puppies over six months and young dogs under about eighteen months are far sturdier than young puppies, and their basic personality is more apparent. These adolescent dogs are full of energy and enthusiasm, but can pay attention long enough to learn new things quickly. Best of all, they still have most of their lives ahead of them. If you don't like surprises, a dog over two years may be your best bet. Dogs live an average of about twelve years, with very small dogs living longer and very large ones shorter lived.What about Health? It may seem obvious that you will want your dog to be healthy (although some people willingly accept the challenge of a dog with special health needs). Still, it's important to remember that a dog is a living thing, not an appliance under warranty to "work" for a given length of time. . . . You'll also want to do your best to make sure the dog you select is in good health. Beyond that, a reasonable attitude toward your dog's health should be the same as it is toward that of your friends, family, and spouse: "in sickness and in health, till death you do part."
What Kind of Temperament Will "Fit" Your Household? A dog's temperament is partially inherited, partially shaped by his interactions with his mother and littermates, and very much affected by early experiences, including treatment by people. Temperament in dogs ranges from very timid to extremely bold, from placid to excitable, from submissive to aggressive, from very people-oriented to quite aloof and independent. And while most dogs do have a basic temperament, it's common for dogs to display different behaviors in different situations and with different people and animals. Temperament is an important factor in training a dog; people-oriented dogs with medium levels of other characteristics are generally easiest to teach. You should also think about the emotional climate within your family and look for a temperament that seems compatible. Shelter adoption counselors, a veterinarian, experienced dog trainers, and some breeders can help you assess the temperament of a dog you're considering.
Do You Need a Dog Who's "Good with Children"? If you have children under six, you may need to note some restrictions with regard to the size and age of your dog, as well as her temperament. Most dogs who are properly socialized as puppies to older, responsible children will grow up to be trustworthy with children.
Will the Dog Have to Be Left Home Alone? Some dogs have a great deal more difficulty than others being calm when they are left at home alone. This is mostly due to early experiences and never having been taught how to behave when alone. It's hard to imagine any dog not needing this skill, though, and you should either choose a dog who has already demonstrated it or resolve to teach it to a puppy. However, there is a condition called "Separation Anxiety" in which some dogs inherently cannot remain calm when left alone regardless of prior training. This condition may be responsive to medication, call Cooper Creek PetCare Hospital if you suspect your dog suffers from this condition.
What Activity Level Can You Accommodate? What you need to know about activity level is that it doesn't just apply when you're in the mood to jog five miles or throw a ball three hundred times. A dog's activity level tends to be more constant than that, even allowing for the fact that most dogs slow down as they get older. Another way to think about your dog's activity level and how it will mesh with your own is to consider his activity level not so much in terms of what he does, but how quickly and passionately he does it.
How Much Training Are You Up To? Your dog needs to be under your control, which means that you have to train her. In addition to housetraining, she needs to be trained to walk on a leash, not to bite, and to come when called. A dog who will sit, lie down, not jump up, and stop barking, on command, is much easier to live with than one who raises an eyebrow at such suggestions. As already noted, some dogs are easier to train than others because they are more people-oriented, more eager to please, and less easily distracted by sights, sounds, and smells. Nevertheless, training any dog requires patience, practice, and consistency. If you find yourself falling in love with an independent, inattentive, easily distracted dog, make sure you love a good challenge and are totally committed to working long and hard at her training.
Do You Have a Particular Breed in Mind? If you're absolutely certain that a beagle or a boxer or a (fill in the blank) is the dog for you, your search may be simpler. But unless you've already owned and enjoyed at least two of that breed, you might want to ask yourself why you feel as sure as you do. (A minimum of two is important, because if you've only owned one, you may be confusing the breed with the individual dog!) If the dog's overall appearance, size, coloring, and coat type are of primary importance, you're on pretty safe ground in choosing by breed. But if you expect a particular temperament in your beagle, boxer, or whatever, remember that inheritance is only one of the factors that determine temperament. If you're a cautious consumer who feels more confidence in the quality and predictability of a "name brand" dog who's backed by "papers," your faith may be misplaced. Registration papers are actually an identification and record-keeping tool, not a warranty of quality, temperament, or health.
Do "Looks" Matter to You? Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Another thing they say is that handsome is as handsome does. Certainly, it makes sense to like the way your dog looks. Something you should know about looks in dogs, however, is that they often affect function or convenience in ways that may not be obvious to you. For instance, wrinkled skin, bowed legs, a pushed-in face, or a long, flowing coat may strike a strongly responsive chord within you. But wrinkles can trap moisture and odors, bowed legs limit running and jumping, pushed-in faces cause problems in breathing, and long, flowing coats become filthy, matted, and smelly without daily care. The further a dog's looks vary from what nature intended -- a small wolf or coyote type -- the more upkeep and/or functional problems you should expect.
How Much Shedding Can You Live With? One way or another, dog hair has to be reckoned with. There are a few coat types that are not shed (curly coats, as in poodles, long, flowing types that are similar to human hair, and some wiry types associated with terriers). However, the kinds of coats that aren't shed require continual care to keep the dog clean and to prevent the skin, eyes, ears, and genitals from becoming irritated with matter that becomes trapped in the hair. The vast majority of dogs do shed, although the thicker and bushier the coat, the more you can expect on your furniture, floors, and clothes. On the bright side, dog hair can be spun and made into warm, "loyal" garments.
Is Digging an Issue? All dogs like to dig -- except terriers, who love to dig. Given the right kind of earth, most dogs will gladly dig in it. If you have a yard or garden where your dog will spend a lot of unsupervised time, she is likely to discover the pleasures of hole-digging. If you don't mind, then digging isn't an issue. If you do mind, you probably shouldn't choose a terrier or terrier mix, and you will need to come up with a way to resolve this conflict of views on digging. The simplest and fairest solution might be to set aside one area (away from the fence to discourage tunneling) as a digging pit for your dog.
How Much Barking? Virtually all dogs bark. Some breeds do tend to bark a lot more or a lot less than others, but that doesn't mean that any individual dog necessarily reads the manual. There are three things to keep in mind as you think about barking. One is that barking is communication; dogs bark for a reason (from their point of view). Two is that a relentlessly barking dog is almost bound to be objectionable to your neighbors, if not to you (most nuisance barking occurs when dogs are left alone). Three is that dogs can be trained not to bark.
Can the Dog Have a Strong Predatory Instinct? Since all dogs are believed to be descended from the wolf, and the wolf is a predator, it stands to reason that there is a predation instinct present to some extent in all dogs. Most dogs that have been bred to hunt (terriers and hounds, in particular) still have a strong instinct. So, unless a terrier or hound is raised with cats, birds, or small furred animals, for example, these breeds are not good choices if you have such animals in or around your home and would like to keep them there. However, once any dog has hunted, it is not easy to train him not to. This should definitely be a consideration if you choose an adult dog of any breed.
Where Do You Stand on Aggression? Like barking, aggressive behavior is communication for dogs; there is always a reason (from the dog's point of view). Certain working and herding breeds and mixes may be more likely than other dogs to become protective of people and territory, but aggressiveness can and does occur in all breeds and in mixed-breeds. Aggression is much easier to prevent, through early socialization, sterilization, and training, than it is to correct later on. No dog should ever be trained to be aggressive, and no dog should be trained as a "guard" or "attack" dog. There are many dogs who are friendly to people but aggressive toward other dogs, particularly, but not only, if they have not been neutered. Dog-to-dog aggression tends to be most common between dogs of the same sex, more prevalent among terriers and working breeds such as Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, Akitas, and Great Danes, and less likely among hounds and sporting dogs such as retrievers, setters, and spaniels. Nevertheless, any dog can be aggressive toward other dogs. There is no good reason to want your dog to be aggressive, as it certainly puts all kinds of restrictions on your freedom of movement, as well as your dog's. Early and ongoing socialization with other dogs, as well as neutering, can prevent a lot of dog-to-dog aggression, but it's really not within our control to make any two dogs like each other.
Copyright © 2001 The Humane Society of the United States All rights reserved